Christianity and Morality

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:102)

The above verses of Scripture show that we must strive to lay down our lives for God’s sake. It is in giving our bodies and minds over to Him that He can best use us; this entails sacrifice that must be considered our “reasonable service.” We are enjoined to struggle to increasingly lay our lives down so that God can use us; the more we give ourselves over to Him and His sovereign working in us, the more He can and will use us for His purposes.

Unfortunately, we often equate the manifestation of virtues deemed to be “moral” with Christianity itself. By equating the two we are in error and set ourselves up to be viewed as hypocrites. Many of God’s people sometimes behaved “immorally.”

For example, in our culture, incest is forbidden. Yet, Abraham, the father of the faith, the friend of god, married his half-sister. (Genesis 20:12) Lying is immoral. Yet, both Abraham and his wife, Sarah, lied to Abimelech (Genesis 20:5), as they had previously done with Pharaoh (Genesis 12:13) to ostensibly help save Abraham’s life. This role model of faith didn’t trust God enough to protect him, and was willing to let his wife be sexually used by others. Lot offered his daughters to be raped by the people of Sodom rather than let them homosexually rate the two angels sent by God. (Genesis 19:8) Rahab was a prostitute, yet considered by God to be a hero of faith. (Hebrews 11:31) David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and arranged the murder of his lover’s husband.

How can we reconcile our obligation not to lie, commit incest, offer our daughters to be raped, commit adultery, or murder with the standing of those who belong to God as His anointed ones? It is because “morals” are not the major part of the Christian message; our transgression of them is seen by God from the very foundation of the world.

Clearly, God’s ways and his assessment of people are not our ways. Before we were born He knew what we would do. Before they were even born He said, “… Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 8:13) Frankly, I much prefer Esau to the conniving Jacob who stole his brother’s birthright and conned his blind father into giving him Esau’s inheritance. Just one more example: before Ishmael was even born God said to Hagar, given to Abram by his wife Sarai to have sexual relations so as to beget a child, “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him …” (Genesis 16:12)

God’s people are all sinners and transgress morality. By equating morality with Christianity we do so at our peril. There are many atheists who are moral, decent people. What distinguishes the Christian from the atheist or anyone else is not only behavior that allows God’s light to shine through, but the faith we have in Him to keep His promises to us, to save and keep us, and to love and accept us, as He knew we would before we were even born. What defines a Christian is the knowledge that only God is our righteousness!

The Apostle Paul knew he was immoral. (Romans 7:15-25) Yet, he would say to the Sanhedrin, “…Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1) He could only make this remarkable statement because he knew that he was a sinner in the very core of his being. Although he sought to present his body a living sacrifice and be transformed by the renewing of his mind, these actions were processes, not accomplishments. He knew that his faith was not defined by conventional morality, although he made it clear that we were not to use our liberty in Christ as a license to sin, hinder the Gospel, or to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble in the faith. He was able to have a clear conscience despite his sins and sin-nature because he trusted Christ to be his only righteousness and to deliver him to God as one whose sins were covered over by the shed Blood of Christ.

One of the most compelling reasons to take the Bible seriously is that it doesn’t sanitize the failings of God’s people. They commit incest, they murder, they are prostitutes, they are adulterers, and they are liars. Sometimes they don’t trust God. Even the father of faith, Abraham, after being called by God, Who appeared to him, and given the promises that He would “…make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great….” (Genesis 12:2,10) ran to Egypt because of a famine in the land that God promised him and his descendants.

What differentiates the Christian from all others lies not particularly in the area of morality, but lies in his or her tenaciously hanging onto God as his or her fortress, enabler, defender, and deliverer! And being LGBT isn’t immoral in the first place, so all of God’s children, chosen from the foundation of the world, have no reason to feel condemned by God!

Brains in Our Shorts

RELIGIOUS legalists have been obsessed with sex — and especially with other people’s sex lives — for many hundreds of years. Their attitudes toward Jesus’s mother have demonstrated that obsession quite clearly. I believe the Virgin Birth story in Luke points to the doctrine of Christ’s unique divinity and humanity. Though I believe in the truth of it, and see no constructive or edifying reason why anyone might need to “debunk” it, I don’t see the Virgin Birth, in or of itself, as the point.

Why are legalists so concerned about the sex life of a woman who lived on this earth 2,000 years ago? Is that really showing a reverence for Mary? This obsession with the sexual behavior of other people — living or dead — degrades us. It puts our brains in our shorts. A common lament of social conservatives is that sexual immorality (as they define it) is evil because it degrades us, dragging our minds down from heavenly things into the dirt. Perhaps, when they say that, they should be addressing it to themselves.

The way many anti-gay “moral” crusaders speak to and about gays is degrading not only to gays, but to themselves. When people like Rick Santorum, Ken Cuccinelli or Michele Bachmann say such things about love or marriage, they degrade their spouses and children, as well. They’re revealing their own darkened minds and cold hearts, and laying bare their own warped views of sex, love and commitment.

The Bible makes clear that people ought to treat others as they want to be treated, themselves. This means they should also treat others’ loved ones as they want their own loved ones to be treated. It also says that out of their mouths comes what is in their hearts.

Though these people talk incessantly about the subject of morality, they never really honestly deal with it. The disconnect between their apparent fascination with the subject — at least (and almost solely) where sex is concerned — amounts to what very much looks like a pathology. They want to control the conversation not because of what they do want to discuss, but because of what theydon’t. Every choice is favor of one thing is also a choice against something else. And the behavior of anti-gay Christians has become so glaringly un-Christian that their claim to be concerned about morality rings hollow and pathetically false.

I have a personal devotion to Mary. I firmly believe that she prays for me from Heaven, that she watches over me and that she helps to keep me faithful. I believe that all of those who are trampled underfoot by the powerful are — as her Magnificat very clearly says — especially beloved of God. Which certainly includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, both in and outside of the Christian fold.

Why the obsession, among anti-gay Christians, over whether she remained a virgin all her life? Thus may her compassion and concern for those they trample be ignored. I do believe Mary was a virgin, but I doubt she spends as much time thinking about that as she does about those who need God’s protection, and who cry out to her for help.

Not only do anti-gay Christians keep their brains in their shorts, but their hearts also seem to be stuck there. Thus do they demonize other human beings instead of reaching out to them with God’s love. “But we love the sinner,” they say, “and hate only the sin.” If it were a sin for us to fully live, and to love and be loved as we are best able, then God would hate us. That is a conclusion born not of hysterical hyperbole, as they charge when we reach it, but of honest and inescapable logic.

They may hate us, but God most assuredly does not. Nor do they get to interpret, for us, what it means for God to love us. They go right on trying to, but we won’t let them. Thus do they scream about “religious liberty” — apparently ignorant of the fact that it applies not only to them, but to us.

Pope Francis says it’s time for the heterosexual faithful to shift focus and reach out to us in genuine love — to listen to us, instead of preaching at us. Now those who claimed that the anti-gay pronouncements of his predecessors were “infallible” (and of course they did this, by implication if not by overt assertion) are falling all over themselves to assure us that this pope’s opinions are merely his own. What they really believe, evidently, is that they are infallible.

They believe that they are more loving than God “Himself.” What is becoming apparent is that they are idolaters who worship themselves, and that they would set up a counterfeit to genuine Christian faith. Thus do they want religious freedom only for themselves, and lie by omission by pretending that no other form of faith but theirs exists. In their grand crusade to protect their religious freedom, they certainly seek the power to crush ours.

I will deal with these issues more specifically in other essays. There’s too much here to do justice to it all in one. Suffice it to say that further conversation — and a deeper exploration — is urgently needed now.

We need not be afraid to have a conversation about morality, including sexual morality. Our adversaries are the ones who fear it. Which is all the more reason why we — of all people — must be the ones who insist on having it. The truth is on our side, not theirs. That’s why they shy away from real dialogue and attempt to divert it with lies.

Since the truth is, indeed, on our side, now is the time for us to stand up for it. God is on our side. Mary’s Magnificat makes that abundantly clear:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1:46-55 (NIV)